PHOENIX -- A former Arizona legislator was sentenced to 18 months of home confinement for his felony convictions for seeking and accepting bribes while he was a Tempe city councilman and misleading donors about a scholarship fund that benefited his relatives.
The sentence given to former Rep. Ben Arredondo was more lenient than the 18 months in prison that prosecutors had sought.
Arredondo had admitted he accepted sporting tickets and other benefits from FBI agents who posed as employees for a real estate development company looking to do business in Tempe. In exchange, Arredondo divulged confidential information from a city bidding process and lined up meetings and phone calls between the company and city officials.
The former Democratic lawmaker admitted that more than $49,000 from a scholarship fund he established had gone to seven of his relatives. He never revealed to prospective donors that family members were receiving the funds.
Prosecutors argued that Arredondo abused the public's trust for sporting tickets and personal gain.
U.S. District Judge Frank Martone said Arredondo's crimes were disappointing but the former lawmaker had otherwise led a constructive life that had a positive influence on others. ``It's cheap. It's tawdry. It's pathetic,'' Martone said of Arredondo's crimes. ``But this is not Jack the Ripper.''
The judge said a sting operation in which a public official sought sporting tickets from a development company begged the question of whether the federal government's resources would be better spent on targeting financial crimes on Wall Street. He also noted that only one contributor to the scholarship fund has asked for his $540 donation back, while the rest who responded to inquiries from prosecutors didn't feel they were victimized.
Friends, family, a few political figures, and people who had been mentored by Arredondo packed the courtroom and a second overflow courtroom where audio from the sentencing hearing was piped into. The judge heard emotional pleas for leniency from Arredondo supporters who said his illegal conduct marked an aberration for a man committed to community and family.
``I know it was wrong, but I took the tickets,'' Arredondo told the judge before sentencing. He started to sob when he talked about his fright at the possibility of being separated from his wife.
Arredondo's son, Ben Arredondo Jr., made an emotional plea for leniency, saying he pressured his father to seek out the sports tickets and that his father never used the tickets. ``It is my selfishness- and not my father's- that has ruined his career and destroyed his name,'' he said.
Lee Stein, one of Arredondo's attorneys, said Arredondo sought out the sporting tickets because he wanted to be seen as a big shot.
Prosecutor Monique Abrishami said Arredondo behaved like he was on retainer for the development company by using his post as a Tempe council member to influence the decisions of other officials in ways that were favorable to the company. Abrishami said Arredondo's actions weren't aberrant, but rather indicative of a longstanding corrupt relationship with the company.
Arredondo pleaded guilty in October to honest services mail fraud- the technical charge for bribery often used in public corruption cases- and mail fraud. The guilty pleas forced Arredondo to resign from the Legislature.
He was elected to the Legislature in November 2010 after 16 years on the Tempe City Council. The former teacher also previously served on a school board and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
Last year, Arredondo was named in a Fiesta Bowl report that said the operation provided Arredondo with tickets to NFL games at his request while he was a City Council member. He and numerous other current or former legislators identified in the Fiesta Bowl report as accepting game tickets or trips to football games were not prosecuted.
Prosecutors said bribes paid to Arredondo totaled more than $5,200, consisting of sports tickets and tables at charity events for which Arredondo would invite people to fill the seats at each table. Defense attorneys said the figure is lower than prosecutors had calculated.
Arredondo's lawyers, in seeking leniency, told the judge that their 65-year-old client's mental and physical health is deteriorating. They said he suffers from chronic anxiety and bipolar disorder and was hospitalized in July 2010 for kidney failure caused by his diabetes medication.
They also said Arredondo's accomplishments as a Tempe City Council member included working to renovate local parks and bringing affordable grocery stores to blighted neighborhoods.